Villagers Block Equipment in CPP Senator Land Dispute

Villagers fearing they will lose their land in Kompong Speu province yesterday blocked land-clearing equipment from reaching an agribusiness concession held by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, sources said. 

Protestor San Thou, 40, said villagers in Thpong district had blocked a road linking the restive Omlaing commune with the provincial capital in order to cut off the company’s access to land that is earmarked to be a 10,000-hectare sugarcane plantation.

“The roadblock was created to prevent the firm’s equipment from moving…to the site to clear the land,” Mr Thou said by telephone.

Villagers say the government-sanctioned concession will affect 3,000 hectares of their property and on March 26 briefly blocked National Road 4 to protest against the company’s land clearances.

Mr Yong Phat and government officials claim the concession is on state land and that it does not overlap with the villagers’ farmland. Adjacent to Mr Yong Phat’s concession is a second 10,000-hectare plantation site, also a government land concession, which was given to the senator’s wife to also grow sugarcane.

Omlaing commune resident Vat Pao, 49, said yesterday that villagers wanted the concession boundaries redrawn along the course of two streams in the area named O’Ka Ek and O’Pou. Another protester, who only gave his name as Phoeurn, 45, said villagers in the area on Sunday had chased away the company’s workers who were operating 11 bulldozers and cranes that clear dikes surrounding the villagers’ rice paddies.

“We believe nobody because local authorities have never worked in favor of poor farmers,” he said.

Negotiations with protesters were to continue today in order to resolve the conflict and remove the roadblock, Kompong Speu deputy provincial governor Pen Sambou said, adding that six meetings between officials and villagers had been held so far and no resolution had yet been found.

“The villagers’ demands are too great on some points,” Mr Sambou said, adding that he didn’t believe the farmers were simply aggrieved at the prospect of losing their land.

“We believe that someone’s politicians and outsiders are involved in inciting the villagers because these repeated roadblocks don’t stem from the people’s will.”

During negotiations villagers had demanded that they be given state land as compensation for the loss of their paddy fields to the senator’s company, he said, adding, this was “unacceptable” because “the state forest land legally belongs to the state.”

Mr Yong Phat yesterday again claimed his concession did not affect village lands and said the soldiers from RCAF’s 313th Brigade, which have been hired to protect his concession, would not harm villagers.

Officially sponsored by Mr Yong Phat, the troop of the 313th were deployed to his company’s onsite office following a protest on March 18 during which angry villagers torched two wooden structures owned by the company.

“We will peacefully talk to villagers and no [security] forces will hurt people,” Mr Yong Phat said, while also claiming “a few inciters” were behind the protests.


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